I’m sitting at my desk, drinking my
creamer coffee with cream, and dipping pretzels in chocolate. It’s 8am. That’s what a woman does (or long to do) the morning she starts her period. Except, substitute a fuzzy blanket and a couch with the desk. *sigh* It’s too bad my work doesn’t arrange a once-a-month lounge-on-the-couch day. Or a free chocolate truck food stand.
So I have to make-do with what I’ve got. At least I prepared and packed triple portions of chocolate in my lunch today. This particular variety is chocolate which I melted down with milk, added bailey’s and cinnamon. Delicious. Perfect for pretzels. Or my finger.
Despite my desperate desire to be back at home watching Friends reruns, I’m at work, and should probably get-to it within a few minutes. However, I didn’t want to leave any faithful readers hanging when it comes to the No-Brainer once-a-week cooking plan. I explained how to prepare your kitchen. And I gave details about the foods you should have on hand.
So finally, it’s time to talk MENU. I love finding menus, and I will keep posting them (fingers-crossed, on wednesdays). Because sometimes the hardest part of cooking once a week is figuring out what to make. So here’s the rule-of-thumb, and it’s pretty easy to follow (for a two person household): a soup, a pasta, a one-pot, and a wildcard. That’s it. A soup, a pasta, a one-pot, and a wildcard. Pretty simple, right?
So even if you don’t make the ones I make, don’t you think you could easily make a pasta, a soup, a one-pot, and something else? Pasta: fast, easy, healthy, cheap. Allows you to be creative and fix things in many different ways. Soup: so many kinds of soup. Very healthy, cheap, tastes great all week. One pot: I’m talking casserole, slow-cooker, hash… it’s easy, delicious, and cheap. The “wildcard” is my chance to try something I’ve been wanting to try (I usually have eaten/seen/heard about something that I want to try. If I know I’ll get the chance every week, it’s really exciting for me). You know that recipe you looked at in a magazine, or saw on the food network? Go back and find it on the internet. Every recipe you’ve ever seen is now available on the internet (also, how they cooked before the internet, I’m not sure).
Oh, and remember, four dishes, four cuisines. I keep a guiding principle in my head: four dishes, four cuisines. This keeps things diverse. I like to think American, Mexican, Home-Cooking, Italian, Asian, Indian, “Spa.” So I can theme each of my 4 dishes in one of these directions. Not too hard to do.
This week, I’ll give one of my favorite menus. A total crowd pleaser. 30 steps, approximately 2 hours, and you’re done. It’s a win-win:
2. Chicken stir fry
4. Slow-cooker lasagna
2 sweet potatoes (or yams – you can also use regular potatoes, they just don’t have as many nutrients or as good of flavor), 2 packages sliced mushrooms, 3 heads broccoli (or broccoli and cauliflower), 4 sweet peppers (red, yellow, orange, or bell – but I never use bell because I don’t like them), 3 onions, 1 bag baby carrots, 1 bunch fresh cilantro, 2 zucchini, 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, 1 lb. ground turkey, 1 jar salsa (I like the fresh one from the refrigerated section), pint of 1% milk, 1 can golden corn, 1 can creamed corn, 1 can diced green chilis (found in the “Mexican Food” section of most grocery stores, buy the bigger can), 1 can “no sodium added” diced tomatoes, 1 16 oz. container low-fat cottage cheese, 1 box lasagna noodles, 1 box jiffy corn muffin mix.
Things you should already have: Italian seasoning, 1 jar marinara sauce, 1 can Italian diced tomatoes, 1 bag 2% reduced fat mozzarella cheese, 1 bag reduced-fat cheese blend (cheddar, jack, nacho, or Mexican), baking powder, vegetable oil, 2 cans beans, rice, cooking spray, packet of chicken taco seasoning, jar of minced garlic, ground ginger, brown sugar, soy sauce, flour, white wine, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper.
Optional: 1 bunch fresh basil, snow peas, sour cream, avocado, chips, garlic bread (we buy texas toast occasionally, but usually eat these meals without sides), teriyaki sauce (I will make my own, but you can buy it. We like the “soy vay veri veri teriyaki” brand).
–Vegetarian: use only beans in the tamale pie, so 3-4 cans of beans. Use only veggies in the lasagna: probably 2 zucchini, 1 container of mushrooms. Use tofu in the stir-fry (make sure you squeeze out the liquid really well with paper towels if you buy the block of tofu).
–Carnivore: double the meat in the lasagna, omit mushrooms and zucchini. Or leave mushrooms in for taste. Omit 1-2 cans of beans in tamale pie and replace with more meat. You can also use ground beef instead of ground turkey in both instances. You can add beef to the chicken stir fry. You could add cooked sausage to the veggie soup: add along with the peppers and potatoes.
–Gluten free: buy gluten free pasta noodles for the lasagna. I think, otherwise, you’re good to go.
–Lactose intolerant: You can omit the cheese in the tamale pie, and use water to mix the corn muffin mix. Substitute corn kernels for the cream corn in the veggie soup. I’m not sure what to do about the lasagna. Is there soy cheese?
–Vegan: the veggie soup is vegan if you omit the creamed corn. Use vegetarian and lactose intolerant substitutions. Not sure what to do about the pasta noodles.
–Picky eater: if you don’t like something that I put in, remember: Like substitutes Like. If you decide to leave out an ingredient (because you don’t like it), you must substitute in something that behaves similarly. For example: you leave out olives because you don’t like them. Well, olives are salty, so you must compensate by adding more salt, or maybe capers, which are also salty. Another example: you leave out garlic because you don’t like garlic. Well, garlic adds strong flavor so you will have to increase your other spices or add something that adds strong flavor, such as onions.
1. Start the slow cooker lasagna first. Heat a large frying pan (with edges) over medium heat until hot. Check by flicking with water – should bubble and evaporate. When the pan is hot, spray with cooking spray. Saute 1/2 onion (chopped) and 1 Tbs. garlic until fragrant. Add half of your ground turkey (about 1/2 lb). Cook until mostly cooked through (err on the side of less-cooked, because it’s going into the slow cooker). Drain liquid and reduce heat to low.
2. While cooking the meat/onions, wash and slice one zucchini, relatively thin. Open package of mushrooms and wipe clean with dry paper towel (if necessary).
3. To the meat mixture, add the jar of marinara sauce, can of diced tomatoes, salt, pepper, and italian seasoning to taste. Add in sliced zucchini and pack of mushrooms. Rinse and chop fresh basil, add to sauce mixture (optional).
4. In a bowl, mix together package of cottage cheese, 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese, and 12 oz. of mozzarella cheese (3/4 of the bag).
5. Spoon a layer of the meat mixture onto the bottom of the slow cooker. Add a double layer of the uncooked lasagna noodles. Break to fit noodles into slow cooker. Top noodles with a portion of the cheese mixture. Repeat the layering of sauce, noodles, and cheese until all the ingredients are used.
6. Top with remaining mozzarella cheese. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours (in my slow cooker, this means 4 hours max, and check on it about 3.5 hours in to see if you need to add more liquid).
7. Put your dirty dishes in the sink. Leave out your big knife and cutting board. You will have time to wash dishes when your veggie soup is cooking.
8. Time to marinate your stir fry chicken. To make teriyaki sauce: In a small mixing bowl, mix together 2/3 cup soy sauce, 1/4 c. white wine (optional), 2 Tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tsp. ground ginger, 1-2 tsp. minced garlic. Sometimes I replace some of the white wine with white vinegar.
9. Trim all visible fat from chicken breasts. Chop into approximately 1″ pieces (don’t go crazy with this. So silly to do so. They should just be pretty even and a size you’d like to bite).
11. Get out the large stock pot and put it on a back burner of your stove.
12. Chop the vegetables for your veggie soup. Chop safely, but as fast as you can. Here’s a good tutorial if you don’t know how to chop things. 2 sweet potatoes, 1 onion, 2 heads broccoli, 2 sweet peppers, 1 zucchini. These should all be relatively the same size (not too small).
13. Add chopped veggies to the stock pot. Also add most of the bag of baby carrots (2/3 to 3/4 of the bag) and a jar of no-sodium added diced tomatoes.
14. Fill stockpot with water until vegetables are barely covered. Add italian seasoning, salt (1 tsp), and pepper to taste. Bring water to a boil.
15. Chop the bunch of cilantro. When soup has come to a boil, add can of creamed corn and 3/4 of the cilantro. Cover and boil for 35 minutes. When finished, use a fork to check and see that the veggies are tender. Turn off heat, leave on stove uncovered until cool.
16. While soup is boiling and slow cooker is going, clean your dishes. You are halfway through – your lasagna and veggie soup are cooking.
17. Time to make Tamale Pie (my husband’s favorite dish). Using the large fry pan (with edges) and same heating technique as used for the slow-cooker lasagna, saute 1/2 onion and 1-2 Tbs. garlic over medium heat until fragrant.
18. While sauteing the onions/garlic, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray 9 x 13″ baking pan with cooking spray.
19. When onions are translucent, add the remaining ground turkey (about 1/2 lb). Cook over medium heat until cooked through (you can err on the side of less-cooked, because you’ll be baking this meat). Drain liquid and reduce heat to low.
20. While cooking meat/onions, use colander to rinse beans.
21. Add two cans of beans, can of diced tomatoes, jar of salsa, and 1/2 chicken taco seasoning packet. Stir and let simmer. Add salt and cayenne pepper to taste (cayenne is HOT, so this will make things spicy if you like).
22. In a separate bowl, prepare jiffy cornmeal according to box directions. I substitute the egg with 1 ½ tablespoon water,
1 tablespoon oil, and 1 teaspoon baking powder. I also cut the milk in half and use half water, half milk.
23. Pour meat/bean mixture into the pre-greased pan. Drain juice from can of corn, pour corn kernels on top of meat mixture. Top with cheese blend (as much cheese as you desire, I use about 1/2 bag). Top dish with corn muffin batter, spread evenly.
25. While your tamale pie is baking, your soup is boiling, and your slow cooker is cooking, you will now cook your stir fry.
26. Begin cooking rice. I make two cups for us. Rice is easy: scoop two cups of rice into a mixing bowl. Rinse 2-3 times with cold water to clean. Drain water. Add rice to medium saucepan. Ratio of rice to water is 1:2, so for two cups of rice, add 4 cups of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn off heat and fluff rice with a fork so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. I use jasmine or brown rice. (Also, you can use a rice cooker for this. Same washing, same ratio, just add rice + water and push the button. Presto).
27. Slice two sweet peppers, 1/2 onion, and remaining baby carrots. Chop remaining head of broccoli.
28. Wash your large frying pan. Remove marinated chicken from fridge. Using large, preheated frying pan (using same technique to check), cook in a single layer on medium heat, approx. 2-3 minutes per side (can still be a little pink, because you’ll cook this again). Be careful not to over-crowd the pan.
29. Remove chicken from pan. Over medium-high heat in a hot pan (same technique), saute sliced onions and 1 Tbs. minced garlic until onions are translucent and garlic is fragrant. Add peppers and carrots and some teriyaki sauce, saute 3-4 minutes. Add mushrooms and can of water chestnuts, drained. Add a little bit more teriyaki sauce.
**Note: you may need to make additional teriyaki sauce to pour over your chicken when you eat it during the week.
Your cooking for the week is complete! Let the dishes cool before transferring into containers to keep in your fridge. We usually store the soup in the stockpot, and the crockpot dish in the crockpot, placing those directly into the refrigerator (once cooled).
Clean your kitchen for the last time. It has probably been about two hours. Your cooking for the week is complete. You have four complete meals waiting for you to reheat and eat. Delicious, yes?